Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 6

Created by Joss Whedon

 

Oh yes, there will be spoilers. And if you’ve seen the show, feel free to skip the first section.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer follows a group of friends (the Scoobie Gang) as they fight demons and navigate the challenges of young adulthood. Buffy Summers is a “Chosen One” type, and every season involves her fighting a “Big Bad” antagonist who threatens her world with apocalypse. Since twenty-two episodes is way too many for a single story arc–shorter seasons are one thing that I think HBO/Netflix/the British have actually gotten right–there are plenty of one-off, “monster-of-the-week” episodes, and in the earlier seasons especially these are often meant to symbolize problems that teenagers and twenty-somethings have. ScoobiesTypical examples: Willow, Buffy’s computer nerd friend, meets a boy on the internet who turns out to be a demon; Xander joins the swim team only to find that their recent success comes from exposing themselves to (Soviet-made, if I recall correctly) chemicals that make them better swimmers but eventually turn them into fish monsters; Buffy’s awful college roommate actually turns out to be a demon. These are metaphors for, respectively: the potential for meeting creepers on the internet, seemingly a huge moral panic from the 90’s; steroids; and the difficulties of the transition to college and living with strangers.

Later, the show moves away from after school special issues, and begins to explore key themes without needing to insert a monster as a stand-in for each problem. The fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons explore relationships, family, and the transition to adulthood, without being tied down by any particular formula. Personally, I feel like the show grew with the characters; as the characters aged, they took on more responsibilities, and the show set its sights higher, as well. I know there are a lot of people who disagree with that, and I can respect that opinion. Perhaps it’s because I’m only now watching the show at age twenty-five, or maybe people want different things in TV shows now. Maybe it defies explanation; it just is what it is. Continue reading

Bossypants

by Tina Fey

 

I kind of wonder what Tina Fey would think of me if we ever meet.

Don’t judge me, it’s not narcissism. Well, maybe it is, but Bossypants seems to entirely consist of Fey’s evaluations of pretty much everybody. Regardless of who you are, Fey is ready to put you down. For the writer of Mean Girls, the message of which seemed to be “Don’t be a mean girl,” she really seems a little bit mean. And I think she might already hate me.

A couple examples struck, perhaps, a little too close to home. When speaking of her college years at UVA, Fey mentions all those ‘Virginia boys’ who were not interested in her because she wasn’t ‘white enough,’ or something like that. They would be interested in ‘whiter’ girls, but would rebel by dating other races, thereby skipping over Fey. Several things bother me about this. First of all, I am a Virginia boy, and not only do I reject the assumption that we’re parochial and bigoted, I resent being judged based on Fey’s opinion of a group of boys that had the misfortune to attend that particular institution. I also find it ridiculous that an attractive white woman from suburban Pennsylvania would be rejected for not being white enough. My guess is that, if she did have problems with boys, it had nothing to do with her looks. Thirdly, it doesn’t seem like she was all that unlucky with her love life. Being awkward and not immediately falling in love with someone who loves you back isn’t necessarily a sign that all the guys around you suck, which is the lesson she seems to have learned.

Second example: Ms. Fey also brings up a scar she got on her face as a child. Careful readers will recall that I’m a big fan of 30 Rock, in which Fey stars, and I’ve never noticed the scar. But apparently it’s noticeable, and Fey boasts that she can tell a lot about you by how you react to this scar. If you ask her about it when you don’t know her that well, you’re an ignorant douchebag. Either that or you’re trying to be ‘brave or sensitive or wonderfully direct.’ Basically, because you want to seem deep. In which case you’re still a douchebag.

Now, I have scars on my face too, as well as scars on my arm. They’re noticeable, if you’re observant, and sometimes people ask about them. If I feel like telling them the full stories, I will, and if I don’t, I won’t. I don’t judge people based on when they ask me about a scar. It seems that Fey’s reaction to these types of questions says more about her than about the questioners. On top of which, she rips people for trying to seem deep, yet brings up this incident and then refuses to talk about it. It kind of seems like she herself is trying to seem mysterious or, dare I say it, deep?

I know it’s a comedy book, and I shouldn’t be taking it seriously, or personally, but that’s kind of the point. This is a comedy book, and I feel like I’m being assaulted. What’s funny about being made to feel like a racist, sexist, ignorant douchebag? I feel like Fey is staring at me through the book and constantly making me feel like trash.

I also am aware that Fey is very self-deprecating. (Remember, she hates her ‘half-German, half-Greek’ looks.) The best comedians can put themselves down and still come out on top. For the record, I think Fey has this quality, and I also think she’s probably a very nice person. But this type of comedy might be too fine a line to walk in a book. She puts herself down, but next to put-downs of just about everyone else, it doesn’t feel genuine.

I’m not gonna lie, the book also feels a little bit like it was written in the 90’s. Fey gives herself a pat on the back for being friends with gays throughout her high school career. It’s a revelation when she realizes they’re not strictly here for her amusement. Really? Big Daddy came out in 1999, for crying out loud. (Or if you prefer the Vice President’s example, Will and Grace came out all the way back in 1998.) I get that she made these realizations in the ’80s, but it doesn’t exactly make her seem forward thinking in 2011. Especially when she continues to make snide comments stereotyping gays.

Again, I realize that she isn’t trying to be a jerk, that she’s just trying to make jokes at everyone’s expense. But it just comes out wrong. It gets tiresome. It really reminded me of that 30 Rock episode in which Jack (played by Alec Baldwin) exclaims, “We’ll trick those race card lovin’ wide-loads into watching your lefty homoerotic propaganda hour yet!”, to which Liz (played by Tina Fey) replies, “You just don’t like anybody, do you?” Yes, it is ironic. Yes, I really do love 30 Rock.

Towards the end, Fey shows some humility and acknowledges the help she’s received in her career. She seems less mean-spirited in the final chapters, in which she gives behind-the-scenes descriptions of SNL and 30 Rock. Unfortunately, this doesn’t nearly make up for the majority of the book. Sorry Tina. I’m still your fan.

Tina Fey is a great writer, but Bossypants is not great.

Drive

by James Sallis

 

Before I knew it was a book, the film Drive was described to me as Ryan Gosling driving around Los Angeles with a dead look in his eye. Isn’t that reason enough to see a movie? I mean, who’s better than Gosling?

Nobody

But then I found out that it was based on a book, and that this book was incredibly short, so I stopped watching 30 Rock for a couple hours and checked it out. (I’m just kidding, I’ve moved on to Parks and Rec by now.) There is something to be said for a book that can be finished in one or two sittings, and still have an impact on the reader. Impactful might not be a word, but if it was, it would apply here. Further, the story is chopped up into small events that positioned all out of order, so that a cliffhanger chapter might precede exposition, which might in turn precede the continuation of a previous storyline. To me, this seemed exciting, knowing that anything could happen in the next chapter. In Drive, ‘anything’ usually means someone getting brutally murdered.

On the other hand, it’s hard for me to say what Drive actually means. James Sallis writes a hell of a story, but it goes by so fast it’s almost a blur. There are major characters, relatively speaking, that get a total of maybe five pages. Now, call me old fashioned, but when I’m reading fiction, or even non-fiction, I like a little bit of character development. Even Driver, the title character, is indescribable, except that he’s pretty much a psychopath with a purported set of ethics. For example, the event that drives (!) the book is a heist-gone-wrong, in which Driver ends up with a large amount of money that doesn’t belong to him; he spends the rest of his time trying to give it back. I guess that’s the right thing to do, who knows. But when some youths are hanging around his car, ready to harass him, he doesn’t hesitate to use potentially deadly force. That’s uncool, right? And kind of contradictory?

I guess Drive is supposed to be a post-modern take on the crime/noir genre. The only crime fiction I’ve really read are the books of Elmore Leonard, so I don’t have much experience, but I see some similarities. For one, the characters are all way too cool for school, and even dying characters remain suave till the end, which in real life is probably pretty hard to do.

The post-modern part, I suppose, is that there’s never any real meaning behind anything that happens. Maybe it’s about Driver’s alienation from society; he lives in Los Angeles and has one foot in the movie business and one foot in petty crime, the unifying factor being his unparalleled knack for driving. But he explicitly avoids watching the movies he helps make, and he demonstrates no emotional of financial need to engage in crime, making his life choices somewhat… curious. And again, this is probably some sort of intended message about Driver’s relationship with the city in which he lives, but to me it just seems like an example of style over substance. The style of a crime novel, without any of the character or story. There’s suspense, but given Drive‘s structure, sometimes it’s hard to say what’s happening when.

All things considered I don’t really get why critics seem to love Drive. Sure, it was enjoyable, and that’s worth something, but I can’t really imagine wanting to read it again. I was sometimes confused, and anytime a character or scene was abruptly discarded, I felt extremely let down. Maybe Sallis was trying to write the most frustrating novella ever written, as some sort of statement. Or he wanted to see if he could write a story in which the character’s have zero personality and individuality. I’m not sure. All I know is, I was unimpressed.

Drive is a fast and exciting read, but I don’t think it will change your life. I’m pretty sure you won’t remember it a week after you finish it.

Fatherhood

by Bill Cosby

 

First off, if you don’t like Bill Cosby, something might be wrong with you. As a comedian he can be funny and insightful while still being family friendly, which is definitely more than you can say for some of his contemporaries. If some of his stuff seems dated, it’s because everyone has pretty much latched onto his style, and still nobody’s really come close to doing it as well. The guy can rock a sweater, and he’s allegedly one of the Black Crusaders. Legendary.

That being said, Cosby is funny in large part because of his stand-up style, and he’s particularly known for his voices; he can perform as an exasperated father, an infuriating child, a meathead football coach, or anybody you could want. This doesn’t always translate well onto the written page. In the case of Fatherhood, it is especially disappointing because I’ve heard so many of the stories on the countless Cosby CD’s that we have, and reading the same stories in print doesn’t really measure up. For example: Bill’s wife makes him get up at the crack of dawn to cook breakfast, and he concludes that chocolate cake is the perfect breakfast, as it contains milk, eggs, and wheat, infinitely pleasing the children until Mom comes down and puts a stop to the party. The stand-up is hilarious as Bill goes from early morning crankiness, to relief at having found a loophole in the system, and back to shame and wonder that he ever thought he would get away with it.

For your viewing pleasure:

Now, in the book, this six minute ode to the heroic father is reduced to 2 pages. There’s nothing wrong with shortening a story, but so much of Cosby’s humor is lost that it seems like a completely different person is telling the story. There are several examples of this throughout the book; anecdotes, that I know are funny because I’ve heard them on the CD or seen them on Youtube, that just don’t have the same punch when written down. It at times seems strangely de-Cosbified, which is a damn shame for a book written by the man himself.

The other thing about this book is that it takes somewhat seriously its mission to be a guide for fathers. Obviously, a lot of Cosby’s stand-up material comes from his experience as a father and husband, and as such is something of an instructional guide: Bill gets in trouble for giving his kids chocolate cake for breakfast, so I will try not to do that. It just seemed to me like the book was half comedy, half advice. I’m not sure why, but the editors apparently felt obligated to add an introduction and afterword by some doctor talking about the changing nature of fatherhood. This guy, Dr. Poussaint, basically talks about how the father’s role is expanding into areas traditionally considered the mother’s domain, and vice versa. There’s nothing wrong with adding a little factual information here and there, but it reminded me a bit of semi-educatiotional kids’ TV shows, like Magic School Bus, in which a few facts would be shoehorned oh-so-subtly into the action. Any adult who would seek genuine advice on being a father from a Cosby book might not be ready to be a father.

On the other hand, Cosby himself doesn’t overdo it on the ‘real’ advice to fathers. Most of his advice is either: A) don’t have kids, or B) try not to kill your kids. Cosby is at his best when he turns the plain truth into an interesting story, and he does that over and over again in this book. Fatherhood is pretty well-structured and won’t take up too much of your time, so while it may not be the best, it’s certainly not shamefully bad. I myself am not a father, thankfully (hopefully..?), so perhaps I’m not the guy who should be reviewing this book for you.

If you come across Fatherhood you might want to check it out, but I wouldn’t necessarily go searching for it. Instead, go on the internet and watch his comedy routines.